The Minnesota Timberwolves have just twenty games left in the season and with another disappointing loss to an Eastern Conference foe, the Timberwolves have fallen farther out of the playoff picture.
Wolves fans have been clinging to some improved play from the Wolves as a slight hope that Minnesota could end this decade-long playoff drought. With losses to the Knicks and tonight to the Raptors, the Wolves haven't technically eliminated themselves from contention, but they've fallen even farther in the ultra-competitive West standings.
The Wolves are now 5.5 games out of the final playoff spot with 20 games remaining. The Wolves have blown far to many winnable games this season and those losses to teams like the Celtics, Cavaliers, Wizards, Kings and most recently the Knicks; have come back to bite them at this point in the season.
I myself have been holding out hope that the Wolves could rattle off a big winning streak and thrust themselves into the thick of the bottom half of the West playoff race. Unfortunately, these Wolves have shown they're nothing but inconsistent not just game to game, but quarter to quarter and even possession to possession. At this point, it's clear that even with the slim chance that the Wolves make the postseason, they're not a team that has what it takes for a first round upset over a team like the Thunder or Spurs.
So, then it becomes, do you want a lottery pick (If it's 14 or better it goes to Phoenix) in a 'loaded' 2014 Draft class or a first round exit? I'd take the playoff series (even if it were a 4-game sweep) hands down, though most Wolves fans wouldn't agree. Ultimately, the majority are likely to get their wish.
Tonight's game was a game of runs. The Raptors ended the first quarter on a 5-0 run to tie the game at 33. They then continued that run, pushing it to an 18-0 run. That big run came with a lineup of J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Nikola Pekovic. Adelman took a timeout with the Raptors up 13 with 8:30 to play in the second quarter. Adelman put Brewer & Love back in the game with Bud, J.J. & Pek and the Wolves promptly went on a 17-2 run to take a 50-48 lead with 2:10 to play. The Raptors led 52-53 at halftime.
Toronto began the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take an 8-point lead, before the Wolves responded with a 10-4 run to make it a two-point game midway through the quarter.
Ultimately, the Wolves just didn't have enough down the stretch as a Lowry-led Raptors squad proved to be too much for the Wolves.
To be honest, on paper, the Wolves have the superior squad with the superior individual players. The difference between these squads is that the Raptors have found a way to put all their parts together to get a sum that's something special and has them playing well enough to be the third-best team in the East. While the Wolves have been an inconsistent mess all year long, good enough for 10th in the West.
If the Raptors were in the Western Conference they'd probably be in a similar situation to the Wolves or Grizzlies (just on the outside of the playoff picture looking in). Toronto is a good team, but like every team not from Miami or Indiana out East, they couldn't cut it in the West.
That being said, I'll be very interested to track their progress this spring as they battle in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Tonight's box score...
The Wolves bench was a disaster once again. They've proven that they're incapable of looking like a functional five-man unit all season long and tonight was just another validation of that fact. They mustered just 16 of Minnesota's 104 points. It's pretty clear that Minnesota's bench is going to look radically different next fall, hopefully that begins with ridding the team of Jose Juan Barea.
The Wolves allowed the Raptors to shoot 48.7% from the field and 58.3% from deep. Toronto also held a +10 advantage on the boards.
Toronto's offense relied on a lot of long-range shots and unfortunately they kept dropping. It was like watching Carmelo Anthony and his Knicks all over again. The difference is that the Raptors relied nearly entirely on those long-range and mid-range shots, finishing with just 20 points in the paint.
MISC. STATS: Kevin Love finished just one assist shy of his second career triple-double. Kyle Lowry finished with his 5th career triple-double. This was also Nikola Pekovic's first double-double since returning from that ankle injury, he played the most minutes (33) since his return, too, despite still technically being on that 20-minute restriction. Love's 26pts & 11reb give him his 52nd double-double. The most double-double Love has had in a single season is 64 (in 2010-11), with 20 games left he could best that. Kevin Love hit four three-pointers tonight to give him 144 on the season, that sets a new franchise record for threes made in a single season, previously held by Rashad McCants (142 in 2007-08). Corey Brewer tied a career-high for the second time with 6 steals.
The Wolves are back to .500 at 31-31. They'll be matched up against one of the NBA's worst on Tuesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks will come to town. Tuesday's game tips off at 7pmCST from the Target Center.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!